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Malaysia Airlines Missteps With Latest Campaign

Promotion Gaffe Provokes Public Backlash

The best social media campaigns are attention-grabbing, riding the wave of a cultural zeitgeist into the public consciousness. A little controversy can be no bad thing; when Oreo tweeted a picture of one of their cookies in the iconic colours of the gay pride rainbow it incited a negative reaction from some consumers but also massively boosted their online profile.

The key, however, is to walk the delicate line between controversial and outright tasteless; a line which Malaysia Airlines leaped over with wild abandon this week with the launching of a ‘bucket list’ promotion on their website.


The competition, which asked entrants from Australia and New Zealand to submit an answer to ‘What and where would you like to tick off your bucket list, and why?’, was widely considered to be poor form considering 537 of the airlines passengers have died in the last year in two incidents which could separately be considered among the worst plane disasters in history.

A bucket list takes its name from the phrase ‘to kick the bucket’ as a way of referring to dying, and thus refers to a list of things which an individual wants to accomplish before they die. It generally includes things like ‘visit Japan’ or ‘go scuba diving,’ rather than ‘vanish somewhere over the Indian Ocean with 238 other people’ or ‘be shot down by separatist rebels in a field in Eastern Europe.’

Malaysia Airlines was offering prizes including iPads and free tickets to winners of the competition, which following a public outcry has been rebranded as a ‘to-do’ list. The company has been failing significantly following the MH17 and MH370 disasters, losing up to £1.2 million a day according to some sources. It has stated its intention to cut 6000 jobs and scale back its network of flights.

Some have suggested that the wording was intentional, on the principle that all publicity is good publicity. It’s certainly true that Malaysia Airlines probably can’t fall any lower in the public’s estimation, but a marketing stunt of this calibre of tastelessness hardly seems the way to go about reviving one’s fortunes. 


The incident isn’t so much a lesson in social media self-promotion – not being crassly offensive is just decent behaviour for life as a whole, rather than being limited to behaviour online. But it does serve as a reminder that a company’s actions on social media must be tied into the business as a whole; marketing on the internet is reactive as much as it is creative, responding not only to the attitudes of the public as to the actions and status of the business as a whole.

Old Spice’s YouTube campaign was so successful partly because it ironically played off the brand’s image as a stuffy, outdated product – its inherent self-deprecation was a large part of its charm. This latest move by Malaysia Airlines, is a clumsy and too-soon attempt to turn recent tragic events into a way to promote a company which was in fairly dire straits even before the recent disasters brought it to the forefront of public consciousness.



Douglas is an English Literature graduate who has written about everything from music to food to theatre, now a content creator for Social Media Frontiers. No topic too large or too small. Follow him @DouglasAtSMF.

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Malaysia Airlines Missteps With Latest Campaign Reviewed by Douglas Clarke-Williams on Friday, September 05, 2014 Rating: 5
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